There's never really been much of a narrative to the Grammy awards. Unlike the Oscars and (increasingly) the Emmys, the nominations tend to forgo critical consensus and instead tries to find some ever-shifting sweet spot between commercial success, household name status, and actual quality. There are some broad trends in what kind of music it tends to reward, but there's no real formula for figuring out what it might favor in any giving year. As a televised spectacle it can be occasionally fun to watch, but it's not the MTV Awards when it comes to all out fun nor is it the Pazz'n'Jop poll when it comes to critical consensus.
Maybe it's because no one actually ever tries to make an album with the express intent of winning a Grammy. A-List actors will take chances on more artistic films with the goal of winning an Oscar and cable channels and streaming services take big risks on shows with the hope that they may find glory at the Emmys.
Yet, there's no real equivalent in the music business. While Brad Pitt may team up with a little-known indie director for awards bait, Katy Perry is never going to record some experimental post-electro-R&B meets synth wave EP just to win a Grammy, you know what we mean? Nor do the awards go out of their way to shine the spotlight on littler indie albums either.
So the Grammys takes whatever music was made that year and tries to categorize and make sense of it all with populist sentiment in mind, and then dumps a long list of nominations in 84 different categories on us that we, in turn, try to coax some narrative out. You can read the full list here, but here's our best go at takeaways in seven easy bullet points.
1. Beyoncé Has Never Had a Big Year at The Grammys, This Might Finally Be It
Beyoncé has conquered the world, but she's never really conquered the Grammys. Which is odd to say, because between her solo work, various collaborations and career with Destiny's Child, she's won 20 of them. Most of those, however, come in below-the-fold categories. She's the biggest pop star on the planet, but the Grammys seem to think she's merely a talented R&B singer. When it comes to the show's big four awards, she's only ever won one – the 2010 Song of the Year award for "Single Ladies." She took home a few others that year, but 2010 will forever be known as Taylor Swift's first win for Album of the Year.
That could change this year. After almost completely ignoring Four and snubbing Beyoncé in favor of Beck, she might finally have her year. She leads the nominations with a total of nine and has nominations for Song, Record, and Album of the year. The biggest spoiler may be Adele, who has also nominations in those three categories, but she's already had her big Grammy night by taking home all three of them back in 2012.
2. David Bowie Only Has One Damn Grammy, But That Could Change
To give you an idea of how quixotic the Grammys are, David Bowie has only ever received one competitive award. He won best music video back in 1985 for his short film Jazzin' for Blue Jean, and that's it. That's really, somehow, it! Nothing from his famed Berlin Trilogy was ever even nominated, and his album Let's Dance was his only nomination in a major category (it lost to Michael Jackson's Thriller, which is understandable). Sure, they gave him a lifetime achievement award once, but the Grammys have never been a huge fan of Bowie during his prime. They're finally trying to make it up to the great this year, now that he's dead.
His final album Blackstar and its lead single are nominated in five different categories (though, one of those awards would be for the album's art director, not Bowie). Some critics think it's a snub, but in a way, it's a major Grammy triumph for Bowie. He's never had that many nominations in a single year before.
3. The Grammy's Prove That Their Own "Best New Artist" Award is Meaningless
Remember back in 2011 when Twitter practically erupted in flames when jazz artist Esperanza Spalding beat out Justin Bieber (and Drake) for Best New Artist. Yeah, well, this year both Bieber and Drake are nominated for Album of the Year.
To make it stranger, Spalding actually also released an album this year as well. Emily's D+Evolution was critically adored. Pitchfork, in particular, gave it an 8.6 and the Best New Music mark. Yet, the Grammys completely ignored the album, even in its Jazz specific categories. So good luck to whoever wins the award this year, because it certainly doesn't mean the Grammys have your back later down the road. So, the year's two most commercially successful new artists – Zayn and Shawn Mendes – shouldn't even be that miffed that they were snubbed in the category.
4. Kanye Can't Catch a Break
The Grammy's have a weird history with Kanye West. They nominated his first three albums for their top award. He never won, and when he released what is still regarded as his masterpiece, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, the Grammys snubbed him the top category completely. Kanye's been relegated mostly to the rap-specific categories ever since, a trend that continues this year. Though he does dominate the genre, with nods in Best Rap Album and two each in Best Rap/Sung Performance, Best Rap Song and Best Rap Performance. Oddly, neither Famous nor Fade got any recognition in the video category.
5. A Lot of People Are Probably Googling "Lukas Graham" and "Sturgill Simpson" Right Now.
Lukas Graham is a Danish R&B band of sorts whose song "7 Years" you may have heard on the radio is up for both Song and Record of the year.
Simpson is a sort of country-meets-roots-rock guy from Nashville who's been bubbling under for a few years, and the Grammys probably feel safe in recognizing in the major Album of the Year category because the disc, A Sailor's Guide to Earth, is his first on a major label.
There. Saved you some time.
6. Somehow This Could Also Be Amy Schumer's Big NightThe Grammys technically aren't awards for music. They're awards for audio recording, and that includes spoken word recordings as well. Amy Schumer is the breakout star of the non-musical categories with a nomination each for the audio version of her book The Girl With The Lower Back Tattoo in Best Spoken Word Album and the audio version of her HBO special Live at the Apollo in the Best Comedy Album category.
7. Hmm, "Jolene" is Really Dolly Parton's Signature Song Now, Isn't It?
"I Will Always Love You" may be the most successful song Dolly Parton ever wrote, but it was really Whitney Houston who made it iconic. "Nine to Five" was Parton's biggest commercial hit on her own, but it was a fun '80s soundtrack hit and not necessarily a timeless classic. "Coat of Many Colors" may have been her big breakthrough and most autobiographical song. But it seems in recent years her track "Jolene" has become Parton's signature song. Artists as varied as Miley Cyrus and the White Stripes have reintroduced the track to younger generations, and the Grammys have decided to cement that status by making the somewhat curious choice to nominate Pentatonix's a cappella version (which features Parton herself) for Best Country Duo/Group Performance.
And that's pretty much the Grammys in a nutshell. Finally figuring things out years, if not decades, later.